Taking risks

Leads to job with John Boehner

Matt Ferguson '10
History major with integrated social studies education licensure

When Matt Ferguson was a high school sophomore in 2004, a group of his friends left a Christmas present on his doorstep—a life-size, cardboard cutout of President George W. Bush.

Ferguson had volunteered with the Miami County, Ohio, Republican Party during Bush's re-election campaign earlier that year. "That's when I started building the relationships that have really helped me out," says the 2010 Bluffton alumnus, who met a number of local officials, including his U.S. Representative, and now Speaker of the House, John Boehner.

The fallout from the subsequent Christmas cutout was deeper political involvement that continued through Ferguson's days at Bluffton, ultimately leading back to Boehner. An intern in the 8th District congressman's Washington, D.C., office in summer 2009, he joined the campaign organization Friends of John Boehner after graduating the following May and, since January 2011, has served as district field coordinator, based in Boehner's West Chester, Ohio, office.

Changes of plans

"I've always had an interest in politics," Ferguson says, although that's not always where he saw his career going.

"I came to Bluffton to play baseball," admits the 2006 Newton High School graduate, who also intended to major in history as preparation for law school. While keeping the history major, he soon decided to also get his licensure to teach secondary social studies, figuring that's what he would eventually do.

His baseball plans changed, too, after the 2007 bus accident. He wasn't with his teammates when the bus crashed in Atlanta, killing five of them plus the driver and his wife. But it made playing the game "overwhelming," says Ferguson, who left the team the following winter.

Foot in the door

About that same time, he was contacted by the John McCain presidential campaign, which was seeking a Lima-area intern for the 2008 election season. The call came "out of the blue," recalls Ferguson, who never learned how McCain's people got his number but guesses the source was a local GOP official familiar with his interest in politics. "But it was a lucky phone call."

Driving from Bluffton to Lima and back twice a day, he went to work at Allen County Republican headquarters on a campaign that "threw me into the middle of a grassroots effort," he says. That meant communication with the state-level party and door-to-door and telemarketing work involving signs and surveys—"nothing glamorous," he continues, but good preparation for what was to come.

McCain's loss to Barack Obama left "not a lot to do for a college Republican," says the Pleasant Hill, Ohio, native, but having met staff members from Boehner's office in nearby Troy, "I had this itch to stay in politics." So, nearing the end of his junior year at Bluffton in spring 2009, he applied for, and got the summer internship in Boehner's Washington office, where he led Capitol building tours, among other typical intern duties, but also began to apply his background in history to research constituent issues.

Taking the political path

During what he terms a "confusing" senior year, Ferguson was working toward teaching—and had a couple interviews with schools—but still feeling a strong urge to stay in politics, although sending his resume to "countless" political organizations generated no response.

But a week before graduation in May 2010, he got a call from a Boehner staffer who said an entry-level position was available in the West Chester office. Compared with teaching, "it was definitely a risk if I took that job," Ferguson says. "So I took it."

Joining Friends of John Boehner, he became "the sign guy," ensuring that green and white Boehner signs could be seen throughout the 8th District during the 2010 congressional campaign. He was also charged with talking to as many voters as possible, providing them with literature and the congressman's stance on issues if need be as he traveled the two hours between Celina and the northern suburbs of Cincinnati—the district's distant north and south ends.

Working for the Speaker

There was no guarantee he would still have a job after Boehner was elected to his 11th term and prepared to become House Speaker last January. But when others in the campaign office were offered positions in Washington, he was approached about the district field coordinator job. Calling him "a completely honest human being," Ferguson adds that "Boehner's the real deal. That was really the selling point in me staying."

In his present position, his responsibilities include communicating with county GOP chairs and local officials in the district "to maximize efficiency in campaign efforts"; working with organizations to plan Boehner visits, events and rallies; meeting with key party organizations in the district; and attending meetings so he can take concerns to the Speaker.

Bluffton influences

Ferguson credits three Bluffton faculty and staff members with helping prepare him to do the job, and to live his life, better. Dr. Perry Bush, professor of history, showed him the importance of putting one's self in someone else's shoes, making him "a much more open-minded person," Ferguson says. Jacqui Slinger, director of academic development services, was a "campus mom" who helped him get through the baseball bus accident and also curb his quick temper—an asset, he points out, when dealing with unhappy callers to the office. And Dr. George Metz, professor of education and leader of Ferguson's 2009 cross-cultural experience in New York City, taught him "not to judge a book by its cover," nor to be afraid to try new things.

While he values the latter lesson, it doesn't mean he will probably be running for public office anytime soon. Ferguson currently pictures himself continuing to work for Boehner for the foreseeable future, his election in high school as "most likely to become president" aside.

Bond with Bush

Even if he never reaches the nation's highest office, however, he can say that he has met a president—Bush, at a 2007 town hall meeting in Tipp City, Ohio, where Ferguson gave the 43rd president his purple and silver Bluffton baseball remembrance ribbon. And at work, he's still never far from that cardboard likeness of Bush that he carried in the passenger seat of his car after it arrived at his door on Christmas 2004. Now bearing a Boehner sticker, it's the first thing that visitors see when they step into his office.